Announcements, cancelations, and speculations

I’ve had several thoughts, announcements, and the like regarding my writing all bouncing around in my head that I’ve had to hold off on due to having to promote Realm of the War Pigs.  It’s been a week, and for the most part, and I think enough time has passed to talk about something OTHER than what I published recently.  If I’m wrong…  Well, that’s probably another reason I have to self publish.

My announcements are as follows.

First off, the next book in The Highway Men is already under way.  As of this writing, I already have three chapters and a prologue.

In my blueprint, I had originally planned on book 2 simply being called Unfinished Business.  According to that blueprint, it’d be another story from the perspective of Kaitlin Klein, and it’d follow up on any loose threads book 1 left behind.  Somewhere around the second draft of Realm of the War Pigs, though, those plans changed drastically.

As of this blogging, book 2 of my series is titled Realm of the Mushroomheads.  Kaitlin does appear in the book, but now, the story changes over to a different character.

I’d alluded to a Cousin Bailey in Realm of the War Pigs, but never really went into detail on her.  Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler.  Nor is anything I’m about to talk about for the most part.

Funny thing is that Cousin Bailey and Cousin Sasha were just random characters that weren’t really meant for anything but to expand on Kaitlin’s background.  Hell, their NAMES were place holder names.  I looked over at my TV while I was writing (this was back when I had cable), saw Bayley and Sasha Banx were about to have a segment on WWE Raw, and just wrote those names down in the manuscript, thinking that if nothing else, I’d change them later.  I never did, I realize, and now it’s too late to change it.  Whatever, I’m rambling.

Realm of the Mushroomheads is told from the perspective of Bailey Boxberger (last name subject to change): Kaitlin’s cousin, and a native of Nevel, Kansas.  Unlike her older cousin, she’s never left town, and, in my opinion anyway, is more in touch with what the locals have to say about all these newcomers moving into town, and going over to that mansion.

So far, that’s all I can say about Realm of the Mushroomheads without spoiling things.

I have no idea when this project will be finished, but I can say with certainty that it’s probably going to be 2019 before you see it.  WHEN in 2019, I don’t know, but I doubt highly I’ll be able to finish this, get another glorious book cover from Cartoonist Mark himself, and get this out by 2018.

Especially because of item number 2 on my list of things to talk about.

I’ve been keeping this mostly to myself, largely because I have no idea if this is actually going to happen or not.  All I can really say for sure is I’ve been recruited to write the script for a potential graphic novel.  So far, all I can say about this project is about ninety-nine percent of my time on this project has consisted of researching a psychotic amount of obscure mythology, and the other one percent has been dedicated to trying to remember what comic book pages look like.

Yeah, somewhere around 2007-2009, I thought my blind ass could get into the comic book industry with all my ingenious ideas.  Perhaps Marvel or DC, or even Image (assuming that’s even around anymore) would be a longshot, but I was looking into smaller, but equally noteable publishers like Darkhorse, or Antarctic Press at the time.  Those plans went to the wayside.  Partly because I realized I was a lot better at pros.

Also, in recent years…  Well, a lot of this is basically third-hand information at best, but I’ve generally gotten the impression PC culture has the comic book industry in a stranglehold.  Things like diversity are more important to the big boys than actually telling a halfway decent story.  Or at least that’s the case with Marvel.  I couldn’t tell you anything about DC anymore, other than they eventually abandoned New52, and at one point, there were apparently three different jokers all running around like they do.

Basically, I’m having to learn, and relearn the ropes of comic book writing in order to make a halfway decent graphic novel.

As a result of this graphic novel project getting dumped in my lap, I have to manage my writing time, and shelf some potential projects.  The most prominent of which, unfortunately, is The Helen Tamzarian Papers.

Truth be told, I haven’t given up on The Helen Tamzarian Papers as a book just yet.  As a SERIES…  I’m suddenly a little less interested in pursuing that idea.  Really, if anything, Helen Tamzarian IN GENERAL is an idea I’m not quite as enthusiastic about these days.

I’m putting this project on the shelf for the time being.  I’m not really abandoning it like past projects, but I’m not necessarily going to be picking this up any time soon, either.

Another project that ended up getting shelved before I could even start it was another Novella of Highfill, Kansas.  Yeah, I know.  Just when I’ve convinced myself this one’s the last one, I come up with a new idea.

The thing is, though, I only ever write out Highfill, Kansas novels when I’m in the deepest depths of the backward dark: that horrible void where the voices assure me that life is meaningless, the universe is apathetic to my existence, and everybody around you is a selfish fucking prick who wishes you’d just hurry up and kill yourself already and spare us all the pathetic fucking sadboy posts on Facebook/Twitter.  Except I generally keep my Twitter professional, outside of some sports commentary and a couple dumb observations.

Thing is, life is actually pretty generous to me lately.  I mean yeah, I’m dirt poor at the moment and scraping by on rent and bills, but honestly, a change of scenery was probably what I needed.  New place, new part of KC, new challenges…  It might be too early to make this declaration, but I’m pretty sure I can add new girlfriend to the list as well.  The only real downside so far has been having to rehome my cat, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s for the better.  Both for me, and for the cat, but mostly for the cat.It’s a long story.

So yeah, that’s basically all the news that’s fit to dish for the time being.  Sink your teeth into that, and I’ll see yall next time.

 

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Space Opera: My Thoughts

Boy, someone REALLY wants to be Douglas Addams.  I suppose in the grand scheme of things, you could do significantly worse than Douglas Addams (Elron Hubbard comes to mind almost immediately), but there’s showing influence, and then there’s outright ripping off.

The concept of influenced by Vs. ripping off has been a topic of debate on the internet forever.  There was a time when making game reviews on the internet meant thousands of idiots would accuse you of ripping off The Angry Video Game Nerd, even if your style was nowhere near the loud, profane, fecalphiliac style of AVGN.  If you wanted to be a ranting raving lunatic with his own website designed in the most basic HTML, you were accused by thousands of ripping off The Best Page in the Universe, even if you didn’t copy his misogynistic, egocentric style.  Those are just two examples of this debate that I’m VERY familiar with.  I’m sure it goes on to other platforms, other mediums, and other creaters.

And a book like Space Opera gets me thinking more or less two chapters in that the comparisons to Douglas Addams are inescapable at best.  So is Space Opera a ripoff, or is it just heavily inspired.

Honestly, I’d go with the heavily inspired route.  Largely because while Catherynne M. Valente clearly goes out of her way to incorporate Douglas Addams esque narration about outer space and its various residents, the plot doesn’t even come close.

Space Opera has been described in one of two ways to me:

A. Eurovision in space.

B. That episode of Rick and Morty with the giant head demanding “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!”.

I’m not especially familiar with Eurovision, but I’m assured by friends within my book club that it’s a glorious trainwreck.  B was what ended up selling me on it.

Aliens gather far and wide to perform on the grandest stage of them all.  A stage so grand, Vince McMahon’s WrestleMania looks like a Podunk house show in a stinky old armory out in rural Kansas by comparison.  A stage so grand, various species have been known to convert entire planets into musical instruments just to stand a chance.  And every grand prix, new species are brought to the stage to determine whether or not they’re worth keeping around or not.  New contestants don’t have to win in order to avoid absolute annihilation, but survival depends entirely on avoiding last place.

Naturally, Earth eventually gets discovered, and is invited.  And after learning that all of Earth’s greatest musicians are dead (my favorite being The Insane Clown Possy ending up killing themselves as a result of something to do with magnets), Earth’s only hope ends up being Decibell Jones and The Absolute Zeroes.

Comparisons to Douglas Addams aside, this is an interesting challenge.  How the hell does one write about music?  Music is purely an audible experience, while reading is visual.  I’m going to take a wild guess and say Valente didn’t include sheet music in the print copy.

The story mentions several hybrid genres like barber shop quartet death metal, and symphonic dubstep just to name a possible few.  I would legitimately like to hear how all of these sound.  Even if dubstep is for pussies, integrating it into several other genres would be interesting to see.  The whole concept of mishmashing genres was really what made nu-metal so appealing to me.  True, every third band in the subgenre ended up being a collective of whiney bitches in hindsight, but that aside, combinations and mashups have always fascinated me, and I’d love to hear some of these genres.  It’s too bad that this is a BOOK, or else someone would probably try.

And no, there’s no attempt at replicating what these genres MIGHT sound like in the audiobook.  in fact, Valente really kind of just glances over the genres, or just mentions them off-handedly more than anything else.  Sure, they’re good for shits and giggles, but I’m that guy who has to actually ask out loud, “I wonder what that would sound like?”

Speaking of the audiobook, the audiobook is read by Heath Miller.  He does a pretty good job with the source material, reading it in that sort of dry style that makes British humor so great.

Any downsides to the story has less to do with the performance, and more to do with the source material itself.  I understand that it’s important to get a history of The Glactic Grand Prix, but this seemed to be the part of the book that got exceptionally old in a hurry for me.  There had to be a better way of emplamenting all this instead of making every even numbered chapter a brief history of this alien race or that alien race.  Surely!  It reached a point where these chapters felt like the single most elaborate form of padding I’d ever seen.  For all the impact the “knifeosaurus” people, or the 321, or ninety percent of the other aliens had on the overall story, I found myself wondering at the end just how necessary this information was.  Then I came to the conclusion that the book would’ve been, like, ten chapters if they weren’t in there.  Nothing necessarily wrong with ten chapter long books (Simon R. Green’s Nightside novellas almost never make it past ten from what I remember of them), but I remember trying to get for-real published means having to meet a very specific wordcount.

The book overall…  Is okay.  It had parts I liked, it had parts I could’ve done without.  The worst I can say about it is that it’s harmless.  The best thing I can say is that I’m glad I read it…  But I don’t see myself picking it up again in the distant future.  It killed about a week’s worth of boredom, but that’s about it.

That being said, I’d still recommend checking it out.

Slobberknocker: My Thoughts

Jim Ross: AKA, “Good ol’ JR”, is one of the greatest wrestling commentators of my generation.  Joey Styles is an extreme (no pun intended) close second, but Jim Ross just takes the crown.  There were many times in my middle and high school years when I sat down, watched me some Monday Night Raw, and let JR take me on a journey into the wonderful world of Vince McMahon’s one ring circus that is WWE.  Or WWF as it was known back in those days.  Michael Cole, god bless him, just doesn’t have the same ora of pure personality behind his commentary by comparison.  When Mankind fell off the Hell in a Cell, Jim Ross sold the shit out of it.  partly because, according to his book, he wasn’t in on what they were going to do, but all the same, he sold the shit out of that fall.  Cole, or the guy on Smackdown would probably settle for just going deathly quiet on the grounds this is super serious and requires us to be super professional.   Michael Cole screaming “AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, THAT MAN IS BROKEN IN HALF!” is like hearing a cat bark at the mail man.

Seriously, I could go on for fucking ever about JR’s commentary.  But then you’d have no insentive to read the book.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of stories in this book I’d never heard before.  Primarily around Mid South Wrestling: JR’s first job, and the king of the Oklahoma territory back when terratories were a thing.

Honestly, had I known about Leroy McGuirk: blind color commentator, I probably would’ve pursued my teenaged dream of doing color commentary for pro-wrestling a lot more passionately.  I mean hell, to hear it from Slobberknocker, Leeroy had less vision than I did!  If a 100% blind guy could do color commentary, than surely, my one-eyed ass could do it, right?  Ugh, this is what I get for listening to my parents.  Oh well: multiverse theory dictates there’s probably a version of me that gave it a try.  I hope it turned out well for alternate me.

Some stories in Slobberknocker, though, are pretty unpleasant.  IE, the story of Grisley Smith’s…  Addictions.

There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that I’d never known about, either.  IE, JR’s crippling depression brought on by his second bell’s palsy attack.  It probably gives away the ending of the story, but it’s amazing to think that Wrestlemania15 was originally going to be his last commentary gig ever.  Crazy.

I bought this book on a Saturday, and I finished it yesterday.  There was never a dull moment.

The book is mostly read by Jim Ross himself.  Admittedly, it’s very obvious that he has the book, or at least prompts in front of him as he’s reading.  His style of commentary is something that’s stuck with me over the ages, but his reading style…  Well, it doesn’t leave anything to be desired, but you can tell when a guy like JR is reading from a card.  But in the end, it wasn’t bad.  Hell, he didn’t even have to get on the mic and do the audiobook, really.  But he did, and I appreciate that so much.

I think I’ve brought this up before, but it really makes it special when the author of an autobiography, regardless of the subject, goes out of their way to read their own story for the audiobook.  Sure, they might not be the best reader on the planet (Cough cough Daniel Bryan cough), but at least they made the effort.  More than I can say for some people, Hardcore Holly.

I highly recommend this book.

After On: My Thoughts

Whew boy, this book was an ordeal.  People who follow me on my Twitter (@ThomasJBlack1) watched me struggle with this one in realtime, but for those who don’t give a fuck about Twitter and prefer blog posts featuring paragraphs of text all in one place…  Yeah, this book was a chore.

I’ve mentioned before that nonsequential story telling is a pet pieve of mine.  Admittedly, this one does it better than most…  Sometimes.  As far as Mitchel’s high school romance storyline goes, at least I had warning that we were going to be spending several chapters jumping to the past.  More than I can say for the unfolding epic of Epetstore.com’s demise, anyway.

This is one of those stories where they just dump a bunch of random shit in your lap in the early going, and expect you to figure out how to put it together as the story unfolds.  I seriously thought the epic saga of Brock Hogan was happening in reality alongside Mitchel’s company getting eaten by Phluttr Inc.  Only to figure out later (several chapters before the book just outright tells you, mind you) that Brock Hogan is actually just the CEO’s terrible scifi creative writing.  The Amazon.com reviews included in the book, while amusing enough, take a while before you figure out what purpose they serve to the plot.  Before then, they just feel intrusive, and maybe even counterintuitive to the story.

Another pet pieve of mine that I might or might not have gotten in to in this blog as a whole is present tense narration.  Plenty of GOOD stories suffer from this pet pieve of mine, and a lot of them are very noir esque.  This seems to be a trope of the young adult genre, and it just reaks of laziness.

In the case of After On, the present tense narration is compounded by the fact the narrator is FUCKING ANNOYING!.  Eventually, you figure out the artificial intelligence that eventually becomes known as Phluttr is the one narrating.  That doesn’t improve anything, but…  Well…  No, that doesn’t improve anything.  Seriously, the narrator for The Powerpuff Girls wasn’t this fourth wall breaking and excessively biased.

I’m aware that unreliable narration is a concept, but much like nonsequential storytelling, it’s one of those things that needs to be done right in order to work.  William fucking Faulkner couldn’t even make it work, and I love Faulkner.  After On is no Faulkner, though, and I’m made aware of it with every paragraph.

This book was featured in my scifi-fantasy book club.  Other criticisms, such as the author’s unhealthy obsession with “info dumping” were brought up.  I personally could look past the fictional disease of the protagonist (Folkenberg’s Syndrome, I think it was called), if only because of all the things that annoy me about this book, that one annoyed me the least.  It’s not a real condition, but whatever.  Don’t care

One person in the group even went on an EXTREMELY long tangent about how Phluttr could communicate with every country in the world, and understand every culture’s language querks and cultural taboos was flat out absurd.  Seriously, the last time I heard someone go on a tangent this long and ridiculously over thought out, one of my best friends was trying to explain how Ron and Hermione should’ve never ended up together on the grounds “opposites attract” is pure and absolute bunk.  In his defense, though, he has aspergers syndrome, and really wanted Harrymione to be a ship (I guess).  And in defense of the person arguing the Phluttr case, foreign language is apparently the thing she nerds out over the hardest.  She herself even admitted it on at least three occasions since I’ve met her.

Still, that may be something to keep in mind.

The audiobook is read by a ridiculous amount of people.  I’m going to guess January LaVoy is the one who reads about eighty-five percent of the book.  It also features Felicia Day: famous for…  Uh…  Some reason.  And I’m sure this was the case BEFORE she appeared on the reboot of MST3K, or her appearances in Ninja Sex Party videos.  I guess she hosted a podcast or something?  In any case, Day reads all the Netgrrrl posts, and she reads them all through a voice filter.

My favorite of all the narrators of this book, though, has got to be Jesse Cox as the guy who reads all the Whistleblower posts.  This guy right here steals the show.  You can just hear the capslock key being glued permenantly to the ON position once he starts up.  Whistleblower ITSELF is like listening to Alex Jones, if the roided up gorilla knew the first thing about computers.  Considering he doesn’t know the first thing about FROGS, I imagine he doesn’t stand a chance, but I’ve been proven wrong before, so…

So yeah, they really went all out with this audiobook.  It’s just too bad this thing ended up being such a fucking headache to get through.  I’m genuinely impressed with myself that I made it through this book.  If it weren’t on my cell phone, I’d have probably chucked this fucking thing against the wall at least twice in the process of reading it, it was so tedious.

I can’t recommend this book.  At all.  Don’t get suckered into the dare.

Oh yeah, this book actually dares you to read it at the beginning.  Did I forget to mention that?  You know you’re going to be in for a bad time when the author of the book has to DARE you to read his own book.  You DARE people to read Battlefield Earth.  You DARE people to read The Naked Lunch (spoiler: it’s not as sexy as you think it’s going to be).  You DARE people to read Confessions of an Economic Hitman.  You DARE people to read The Satanic Bible.  You DARE people to read Atlas Shrugged.  If you have to DARE people to read YOUR BOOK, that doesn’t reflect all that good on you as an author.

So yeah, don’t accept the dare.  Just walk away, and find something else to read.  It’s not worth it!

The Golem and the Jinni: My Thoughts

I pose this question to you, dear reader: Have you ever read a book that had a good idea, an interesting story, and had everything going for it…  But you just can’t get in to it despite all that?  You know in your heart of hearts this story is good, but you just can’t get anything out of it?  This is basically my relationship with The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

The plot is pretty straight forward.  Some guy in…  I guess it’d technically be Palastine at the time the story takes place?  Either way, he makes a golem: a construct of clay and other assorted materials that is brought to life for the single purpose of serving its master.  Unfortunately, this golem’s master suffers a heart attack on his way to America, and now the golem is forced to wander around 1910s New York wondering what it ought to do with all this confounded freedom.

Elsewhere, a jinni from the Syrian desert is released from his prison, and finds himself just as puzzled about what to do with his newfound freedom.

Eventually, the two meet…  And that’s about as far in to the story as I got.  I don’t know why, but despite this interesting premise, I just couldn’t get in to this story.  I ended up setting the book down around chapter fourteen, and I haven’t picked it up since.

This isn’t really a review, so much as it is me wondering out loud if I’m weird.  I’m sure everybody’s encountered this at least once with a book, or a movie, or a TV show, or literally any other form of entertainment. This happened to be mine.

Furthermore, I’m apparently the weirdo because literally everybody else I’ve talked to loves this book.  Even if they didn’t finish it at the time I spoke to them, they just adore everything about this story.  And the strange thing is that I agree with them on just about every point.

The only real negative I can think of is that the story has a hard time staying on topic.  Yeah, ME, the guy who prides himself on his barely coherent stream of consciousness both in his blogging and his podcast, is criticizing someone for drifting off topic.  But I stay pretty coherent in my story telling, at least.

This book will focus on the golem, or the jinni, as it should.  It’ll also focus on the golem’s maker, and the man the jinni is working for in exchange for room and bord, which is understandable.  I’m going to guess people like the Syrian doctor turned ice cream maker has something to do with the plot, because diversions like his seem flat out unnecessary.  The author explains his story from his days as a doctor all the way to how he came to live in New York making ice cream, and all I can think is “Um, weren’t we talking about a fucking golem and/or a jinni three pages ago?”.

I am on record saying nonsequential story telling is a bit of a pet pieve of mine.  Flashbacks are fine (lord knows I’ve used flashbacks in my writing before), but for fuck sakes, tell the story in order!  You’re not deep, you’re not smart, you’re a pretentious douchebag!

Other than this major nitpick, though, this is a story I know I should like…  And yet, I don’t.

The audiobook is narrated by George Guidal.  I think he’s narrated a couple other books I’ve reviewed here, and liked, which is equally puzzling.

This might be one of those moments where I suggest just picking it up for yourself.  Clearly, I’m no help.

Realm of the War Pigs Sample Chapter!

When it comes to sample chapters, this one was a hard one to choose from.  Out of an entire manuscript, I usually have a good idea of what I want for a sample chapter.  Barring that, I have two candidates, and I usually keep the runner-up for something like a change in schedule, or if a cover artist can’t make the deadline for some reason.

This time around, though, I found FOUR POSSIBLE CANDIDATES!  I might even post the other three if I think they’re worth it.  Right now, though, I finally decided on a sample chapter, and I’m posting it here for all of your viewing pleasure.

DISCLAIMER: the following text comes from my second draft.  Upon publication, it is very likely that the version of this chapter that appears in the final product may not be exactly like, or ANYTHING like the chapter featured here.  Also note that, since this is the second draft, there are probably some typos I haven’t gotten around to cleaning up just yet.  It isn’t perfect, but for those wondering what’s in store, this should give you a good idea.

 

 

COPYRIGHT THOMAS J. BLACK, 2018, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

4

 

 

It came as no surprise to me that the lights had been cut off. Grandfather was deceased: deceased people have no use for lights. I had hoped that he’d gotten the bills paid for at least one more month, or even one more week, but it turned out that this was asking for too much.

Dan and Hamburger turned their cell phones’ flashlights on, and proceeded with caution from that point onward. They pointed them every which way as they investigated. I wasn’t entirely certain what the two were looking for, but it was clear to me right out the gate these guys knew what they were doing. They talked about that Satannic cult like it was all part of the job, whatever that might be.

We looked through the kitchen, but all we found was that the refrigerator and cubbards had been emptied. Hamburger made a remark about ordering pizza as they continued their search. The living room seemed okay. The bedrooms, both upstairs and on the ground floor, seemed fine. The study was okay, despite a few books being scattered about the place. It wasn’t until we checked the basement, though, when we found something.

My grandfather really only had two major rules in his house: no pets, and stay out of the basement. I wasn’t sure why, but assumed he had his reasons. Uncle Roy, tactless and vulgar as he could be after a couple beers, assumed Grandfather Klein kept his pornography in the basement. I didn’t believe him, but I didn’t exactly dispute this claim, either, figuring it wasn’t impossible.

Sadly, what we found was far worse than pornography. Really, putting aside my prudishness, pornography wouldn’t have been all that bad. Especially compared to what we ended up finding down there.

The basement seemed darker than normal. Even taking into account that it was pretty much evening, the basement had no windows, and the electricity had been cut, it seemed dark. Like somehow, the darkness was an entity unto itself that somehow made it even darker.

Also, there was a smell. An overpowering oder that threatened to make me wretch my guts out wofted through the basement. Suggesting that something died might not have been out of the realm of impossibility.

“Yip,” said Hamburger, shining the flashlight around. “This is definitely the source of it all. If we were using torches right now, the dark would’ve snuffed them out the moment we hit the bottom step, I reckon.”

“What have we got?” Dan asked.

Hamburger shined his light around. The walls were stone, gray, and dull compared to the more vibrant colors upstairs. Something caught my eye, though, and it caught Hamburger’s as well.

Throughout the basement, someone had apparently drawn on the walls with chalk. It didn’t take a detective’s sharp vision to figure out what had been drawn. Whoever had been down here, doodling on the walls, they’d drawn large rectangles on several spots. They started at the floor, and went way up over my head.

“Oh boy,” said Hamburger, dreadfully. “Looks like someone’s been experimenting with doorways.”

“Doorways?” I asked.

“We’ll explain later,” Dan said before Hamburger could answer. “We need to finish looking around here first. How many doors are…”

“Oh shit,” Hamburger interrupted. “We got a blood door.”

Dan and I walked over to where Hamburger was standing. He was shining his flashlight on another rectangle drawn on the wall. Unlike the others, though, it wasn’t drawn in chalk. If I had to guess, it was drawn in red paint.

“This just got serious,” said Dan.

“Oh golly jeepers gee fucking whiz, you think?” Hamburger replied, more concerned than anything else. “You don’t fuck around with the kind of things that can use blood doors, you know.”

“Oh I know,” said Dan.

“Bad enough he was making chalk doors,” Hamburger mumbled. “If it were up to me, nobody would be fucking around with that sort of magic either, but at least with chalk doors, nothing especially nasty can pass through it. Best case scenario, he probably just used these things to visit friends who live in other parts of the country.”

“And the worst case?” I found myself asking.

“Worst case scenario, he punched a hole into an alternate reality. But even then, it’s one of the safer alternate realities. Well, unless the reality where Benito Mussolini’s Italy became the world’s greatest superpower after World War II counts as safe, but that’s probably a matter of perspective. In any case, that’s the worst of the chalk doorways. The blood doorway…”

A loud, inhuman shriek of a noise cut him off, and demanded our immediate attention. We all spun around, and Hamburger pointed his light at what had so clearly made that horrible sound.

It looked like a man, but no one I’d met before. He wore a suit and tie that was caked with filth and blood. The moment he came into view, the smell of death became significantly more overwhelming than before. The light from Hamburger’s flashlight was at odds with the humanoid’s red glowing eyes.

“Get back!” Dan shouted.

Before either of us could do as we were told, he took aim with his shotgun, fired off a shot, and reduced the creature’s head to a myst of putrescence. The creature didn’t have blood, per say. Rather, a sort of black ooze and a swarm of maggots seemed to spray out from the shotgun blast.

I was already having a difficult time trying not to vomit from the smell alone. The creature’s exploding head, and the contents that spraid outward was enough to see to it that I’d lose that struggle. Suffice to say, Burger King doesn’t taste as good coming up as it does going down.

“Sorry,” I said afterward, wiping my mouth off on my forearm.

“Honestly, said Dan, “I’d have been shocked if a normy like you didn’t puke after something like that.”

I found myself immediately full of emotions and thoughts that demanded the floor, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Feelings of terror, and thoughts of what other unspeakable things lurked down here.   feelings of confusion as well as betrayal, and thoughts of what sort of reason Grandfather could’ve possibly had for keeping such things down here. It left me in a cold sweat.

“We need to go upstairs right now,” Hamburger ordered.

 

 

 

We practically ran upstairs after that, slamming the door behind us for good measure. The next thing I knew, Hamburger grabbed me by the wrist, dragged me into the living room, and practically shoved me onto the couch. I landed rear first on the throw pillow, giving him a look that couldn’t begin to properly convey my perplexity at this sudden aggression.

“What the fuck is your family doing?” Hamburger demanded, loudly.

“Whoa, calm down, Burger,” said Dan.

Hamburger’s head whipped around to look at Dan. “Shut up, Dan!” he shouted. He whipped back around to look at me, and it was then I realized how dead serious he was. The jovial tone that accompanied his every sentence since the moment I’d first met the man was long gone now, and in its place was a fury I wasn’t prepared to deal with.

“What the hell has your family been doing?” he repeated, more angrily than before if such a thing were possible.

“I… I don’t know!” I replied, startled. “I just thought that was where grandfather kept his pornography or something!”

Hamburger laughed. “Whatever perverted shit your grand dad was in to goes well beyond gawking at naked ladies. You don’t fuck around with the sort of shit we saw down there. We haven’t even been here an hour, and I’ve already found out your grand dad not only necromanced a guy, but he also turned his basement into a transdimensional nexus of horrors!”

“We don’t know where those chalk doors lead,” Dan interjected.

Hamburger looked back over to his companion. “Maybe not,” he replied, “but that blood door is the kind of thing that says you mean business! This ain’t no frat boy Ouija board party: this here’s some appocolyptic bullshit!”

Dan shrugged. “Fair enough,” he conceded. “That blood door is definitely cause for concern.”

“None of this makes sense!” I protested. “My grandfather isn’t some sort of necromancer.”

Hamburger laughed again. “Your grand pappy’s well past necromancer at this point,” he said. “Pretty sure somewhere down the line, he officially graduated to doomsday cult status. And I don’t mean one of them Heaven’s Gate cults, neither. I mean real life Cthulhu worshipper level doomsday cult.”

“I… But… What do we do now?” Was all I could stammer out.

Hamburger looked at Dan. “Yeah, fearless leader,” he said, the anger in his voice finally beginning to subside. “What do we do?”

Dan pulled out his cell phone. “First thing’s first,” he said. “We get the electricity turned back on, and we get the fridge stocked back up. Looks like we have our next assignment.”

“you seriously don’t think the two of us can fix all this,” said Hamburger.

“No, dipshit,” said Dan. “I’m calling in the cavalry. We’re going to need all the help we can get on this one.”

That Moment When a New Idea Emerges

Something I always hate is when I’m in the middle of one project, and an idea for  second project shows up in my head.  It happened when I was writing The Majin Among us with the long since shelved project simply titled COLA, and it’s happened now.

For those who don’t follow my Facebook page, why the hell not!?  Also, amidst the vast amounts of links to Vegas Golden Knights news and net neutrality arguments, I do post progress reports on my projects that are too short to include in a blog post.  If you’ve been following my Facebook page, you’ll know that Realm of the War Pigs, Book 1 of The Highway Men, is in the proofreading phases.  I finished the writing for it this past Thursday, and before I pack my shit and move into mynew apartment, I have been getting as much proofreading into the second draft as possible.

Then, earlier today, I decided to just sit down, and write out a thought in my head.  This thought, as of this writing, has since become one chapter of a new idea I have for a…  Thing.

I know for sure this much about the project.  Essentially, it’s a superhero story told from the perspective of a reporter.  Not the most original idea, probably…  Although so far, the reporter in my story is a Hunter S. Thompson caliber mess.  Articles often devolve into rambling madness, she often hooks up with both the hero AND the villain.  There’s probably some bingedrinking and some peyote involved, but I haven’t gotten that far into the story yet.

The original title was going to be Fear and Loathing in Metropolis, but I figured DC would sue me into oblivion for that one.  So I’m making a universe of my own.  Which I honestly like better.  Also, I don’t have to slog through hundreds of thousands of articles on random wikis about this or that.  I can really just make it up as I go when it’s MY universe.  All the more reason I tend to favor fictional towns and fictional worlds.

This is in no way or shape guaranteed to manifest into anything right now.  While I AM tinkering with this idea in my downtime, a lot of my energy is focused on finishing book 1 of The Highway Men.  The rest…  Well, the rest is focused on the move.

The thing about The Highway Men, though, is that I’m planning on making it a more episodic series.  Sure, it would benefit the reader to start at book 1, and read them in order.  However, if you’re like my mom, and pick up book 3 thinking it’s all the same no matter what, you probably won’t be as lost with The Highway Men as you might be with something like The Gael Saga.

An episodic series means I can take breaks from it when I get bored, and focus on other ideas when I’m not feeling it.  Trust me, after The Gael Saga, I don’t know if I’m going to do another continuous series like that.  I was very proud of how that series turned out, and I still am for the most part.  However, I still remember how much of a slog that project ended up being, and how much I wanted to work on other projects while I was banging out book 2 and book 3.  Especially book 3.

With a more episodic approach, I can either keep riding the momentum all the way into the next one, or I can take a break and try out a new project idea like I appear to be now.  It’ll probably annoy the people who want me to just shut up and write their favorite series…  But whatever.  If the internet has taught me anything in my lifetime, it’s that it is literally impossible to please everybody.  I’m thankful for every fan I get, and every review I receive, but at the same time, I’m in no hurry to give the pen to the audience.

Again, I can’t guarantee anything will come of this tinkering.  However, if something does, I’ll be sure to talk about it here as well as my facebook.

My Journey to ConQuesT

I’m no stranger to conventions.  I’ve attended Anime Festival Wichita a couple times.  I watched Anime Nebrascon go from small little convention being held in a community college to massive convention occupying an entire hotel in the span of four years.  I attended Planet Comicon last year to watch Kevin Smith and…  Uh…  The other guy (not Jason Muse), record Fat Man on Batman.  I attended a horror film convention a few years ago, and met the guy who’s distribution company holds the rights to the Puppetmaster series.

In all those conventions, I’ve seen all the usual attractions.  I’ve seen the cosplayers posing for photos.  I’ve seen the guys show off their remote control R2D2s, and in more recent years, remote controlled BB8s.  I have an autograph book that, while not exactly filled from cover to cover, has some names you might recognize if you like American voice actors, and obscure film stars.  I even contributed suggestions for an anime themed improv group’s “suggestions in a hat” game once or twice.

In other words, I’m not a stranger to this sort of thing.

However, I’ve never been to ConQuesT before.  Not until this past weekend, anyway.

I went with a couple friends, not entirely sure what to expect.  Right out the gate, they had to help everybody’s favorite professional blind guy find the RIGHT convention, because apparently, the hotel hosting ConQuesT was ALSO hosting a tattoo convention on the other side of the building.  And if you’re wondering at all, yes, there actually was a surprising amount of overlap between the conventions.

Honestly, as far as atmosphere went…  It was pretty quiet.  I did see some folks in costume, but compared to the madness of your average comic book, anime, horror film, and whatever convention, things were pretty tame.

In large part, this is because ConQuesT is more dedicated to scifi and fantasy literature than anything else.  Book people are definitely as proud, but maybe not quite as loud as some of the other fandoms out there.  Also, with a lot of books not having pictures or film/TV adaptations, cosplayers most likely have to use their imagination.  At absolute most, I saw someone with a very intricate raptor costume, and someone…  I wanted to say the polar bear from The Golden Compass, but that was mostly because one of my friends described them as big, white, and furry, and polar bears are the first thing that come to mind when I hear that description.  It would’ve been hilarious if that polar bear was drinking a Coke.  Just sayin’.

Of course, the main event of any convention is the panels.  Unlike a lot of your usual panels, though, there aren’t a whole lot of Q&A with guests.  Rather, the guests usually have a lecture prepared, or the staff had an event planned out featuring them that might or might not have been a good idea in practice.

And of course, in my attempts to become a better shameless publicity whore, I handed out cards to everybody who’d take them.  And left what I wasn’t able to hand off on some table in the lobby for guests to pick up.  Or for housekeeping to throw away.  The important thing is I got rid of them.

I attended Steven Barnes’ panel on Afrofuturism: a subgenre of scifi and fantasy focused primarily on black individuals and their rolls in society and culture.  I have to say, I wasn’t expecting it to be such a powerful presentation.  Even if there was a mix up over whether his room got the whiteboard or not.  Once we actually got in to the nitty gritty, this was the kind of lecture that, at the end, left me nigh speechless.  I suddenly felt a little bad about having never read any of his books prior to attending.

I got to meet him afterward…  And found I had nothing to say.  I ended up shaking his hand, handing him my business card…  Then, three days later, I realized I just pointed the man who’s a driving force in afrofuturism fiction to MY work.  MY work includes The Gael Saga.  Within Gael’s rogues gallery is CharKendrick Parks: AKA, Spook.  Spook…  Well…  Let’s just say Spook is probably not going to win me any awards in political correctness any time soon.  No, I didn’t exactly hand the character a bucket of KFC and tell him to go play basketball while he and his homies listen to Gucci Gang or anything horrible like that.  However, if you’ve read The Hood and the Heroine, and read the chapters Spook narrates…  Yeah, the rules of political correctness dictate I’m probably going to hell.  And I only made it worse by possibly directing a guy trying to make a positive name for Black America without using hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter in that direction.  Shit.  Oh well, wouldn’t be the first time I accidentally burned a bridge.

Another panel at ConQuesT I absolutely adored was “Author Speed Dating”.  The premise is simple: there’s eight authors, and eight readers.  Each reader pairs off with an author, and the author tries to sell you their book.  This, right here, is an awesome idea on paper, and it did not disappoint in practice.

True, some authors were better at selling me on their fiction than others.  Sean Demory and Van Plexico were definitely my favorites, advertising such works as Polukaville, and The Sentinal trilogies respectively.

There was another author I met who’s book intrigued me, who’s condition intrigued me MORE, and…  Unfortunately, I forgot her name.  I’m SORRY!  I just remembered offering to shake her hand, and she explained she had a nerve condition that resulted in tremendous pain if someone touched her.  Even wearing clothing apparently hurt.  I can’t remember her name, and I can’t remember the name of her condition, and after pulling up a tab that had all the ConQuesT guests, I’m unfortunately not recalling anything.  Although I’M DEFINITELY positive it wasn’t Dora Furlong.  I think Furlong wrote the Monster Keeper series, as well as the Olympus Talent Agency series.  Both of which sound fascinating as well.

I did go to other panels…  But if I’m being honest, those ended up being a bit more meh than I was expecting.  They weren’t bad by any means…  But I wasn’t really feeling them at the end of the day, either, you know?

I only hung out for Saturday’s festivities due to only having enough money for one day, friends wanting to get together on Sunday, and Monday being my day to sleep in, get some writing done, then forgetting I’m a Baha’i for a split second and getting piss drunk stupid while watching The Stanley Cup with family.

SEMI RELATED NOTE: GO VEGAS!  FUCK THE CAPS!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at ConQuesT.  Maybe next year, I can actually register as a guest.  It’d be fun to try the author speed dating on the author’s side.  Maybe sharpen up my sellsman skills in my quest to become a better publicity whore.

Noir: My Thoughts

Christopher Moore is one of my all time favorite authors.  I started with A Dirty Job, then read all three of the Bloodsucking Fiends trilogy, and pretty much set out to read as many of his books as I could possibly get my hands on.

Admittedly, Moore is…  Not for everybody.  Especially in recent years, with stories like Sacre Blue, and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff.  These are pretty avant gard, considering the guy had made a living telling humorous stories about either a fictional town out in the middle of nowhere, or in a fictional San Fransisco that reminds me of Kevin Smith’s Jerseyverse.  Or Askewniverse.  Or whatever we’re calling the Jay and Silent Bob movies nowadays.  The Jay-And-Silent-Bobiverse?

Also, if nothing came from the 2010s, my fascination with film noir happened in this very decade.  All you bitches feeling nostalgic for the neon-colored nightmare of shoulder pads, toy commercial cartoons, and Reaganomics don’t know nothing about nostalgia.  I was going back to the days when movies weren’t even in color!  I was going back to the days communism actually seemed like a legit threat to anybody!  I was going back to the day when a high budget movie was around six figures at absolute most!  You want to talk nostalgic?  You don’t know.

I forgot where I was going with this.

Oh right, Christopher Moore wrote a noir book!  My favorite author?  Writing one of my recent favorite genres?  I literally commented on his blog: “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”.  No really.  Look for the sample chapter for Noir on his blog (if it’s still there).  You’ll find my comment right there!

ANYWAY…

I really had high hopes for this book.  And…  Not going to lie…  It’s not one of his better books.  Yeah, I’m starting to think I might have jumped the gun on that one.  It’s fucking No Man’s Sky all over again.

It’s not a bad story by any means.  Comedy wise, “the kid” was probably the funniest thing about the entire story.  I mean yeah, the fact the main female character is named after a variety of British cheese is KINDA funny I guess, but a lot of the humor…  I don’t really want to say it fell flat, but considering I read Christopher Moore books frequently, I’m kind of familiar with his pacing, and his style of joke telling.  It’s like watching a new episode of a long-running sitcom that hasn’t managed to hit seasonal rot yet: the jokes are there, and you know they’re funny, but they aren’t really gut-busting hilarious.

The very beginning of the book is basically a fucking trigger warning to all the delicate little snowflakes out there that this book takes place in the 1940s, and therefore may use some slurs that were acceptable then, but aren’t now.  Although I got to say, I was expecting a lot worse than what I got.  Sure, he used the word “colored” a few times, and a few slurs for Chinese people.  I don’t know, maybe having friends who masterbate to Trump and praise “the glory of Kekistan” have desensitised me to the point I feel nothing anymore when I hear racist remarks.  Or maybe I don’t offend nearly as easily as this current generation of weak-willed pussies.  I’ll honestly believe either one.

Get past the trigger warning, and you get a story that is…  Okay.

Really, my only real gripe with the book is that there’s two narrators, and the second narrator waits till way into the book to introduce himself.  The epic reveal…  Honestly, I can’t decide if it’s funny, or dumb.  Possibly both, but maybe leaning more towards dumb.  It’s one of those choices that, on paper, probably sounded funnier.  And at the moment of the reveal, it DID kinda give me a chuckle.  But prior to the reveal, I found myself constantly wondering why it went from first person to third person every other chapter.

The audiobook is read by Johnny Heller.  Heller is a man of about two or three voices at absolute best, and they all have a bit of a Marlon Brando quality to them.  However, it’s a reader that fits the theme of the book just fine, so I give it a pass.

Overall, it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read.  It’s not even the worst Christopher Moore book I’ve ever read.  Really, though, I’d recommend some of his other titles before recommending this one.